The last ten months or so have been very tough for the publishing industry in general, and particularly challenging for small indie presses who have still succeeded in bringing brilliant new books in to the world during a pandemic no less. One of those is Exit Management by Naomi Booth which was published by Dead Ink Books last summer. Originally from the north of England, Lauren works at a City firm as a graduate HR executive and specialises in “exit management”, otherwise known as firing people in less corporate terms. She is very ambitious about climbing the property ladder, even in a city where she discovers early on that a bedsit in Deptford will always be advertised as a “luxury studio in outer Greenwich”. Callum is a young man in his twenties who lives with his parents in Croydon and lands a job at GuestHouse, a company which finds elite temporary residences in London for the super-rich. Callum forms a close bond with one of his clients, József, a terminally ill elderly man who came to live in England from Hungary as a refugee in 1956. When Callum and Lauren meet by chance outside József‘s home in Elgin Mews, Lauren assumes that Callum owns the property, and the lives of the three characters become drawn together in unexpected ways. I think the characterisation is particularly strong in this novel, as it explores Lauren and Callum’s relationship in more interesting ways than just depicting their status as millennials inevitably struggling to get by in London. I look forward to reading Booth’s eco-horror debut novel ‘Sealed’.
The Sound Mirror by Heidi James was also released last year by Bluemoose, the Yorkshire-based publisher of Leonard and Hungry Paul, and it is another word-of-mouth success I have heard a lot about through Twitter. It features three intertwining narratives from the perspectives of Tamara, Ada and Claire. In present-day England, Tamara is travelling from London to Kent and is introduced with the line: “She is going to kill her mother today.” Several decades earlier, Ada is starting a new life in England after India gains independence from Britain, while Claire is the daughter of Italian immigrant parents, evacuated to Wales as a child during the war and later ends up with caring responsibilities of her own. The narrative alternates quickly between the three characters across very short chapters and explores themes surrounding motherhood and trauma. I guessed one of the main connections between the characters which isn’t fully revealed until the end, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this excellent novel at all.
I have had a copy of Snegurochka by Judith Heneghan on my shelves for a while now and I am very glad I have finally got round to reading it. Published by Salt a couple of years ago, it tells the story of Rachel who moves from the UK to Kiev in 1992 with her baby son Ivan to join her husband Lucas who works as a journalist for the BBC. The family live in a cramped apartment on the 13th floor of an austere tower block and Rachel struggles to adjust to both motherhood and a different way of life in a foreign country where not speaking the language proves to be just one of many barriers she faces. In the early days of independence from the Soviet Union, the locals are mystified as to why Rachel would choose to move from an affluent country to one where shortages are widespread, the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 remains a serious concern and transactions for obtaining goods such as a washing machine are far from straightforward. Heneghan has used her own experiences of living in Ukraine in the 1990s to show how Rachel develops a very different perspective of the city from Lucas. As well as a distinctive sense of place, Heneghan skilfully builds tension and the unsettling atmosphere is brilliantly conveyed. Highly recommended.